American Public Media is putting out a list of the hosts' top ten favorite songs/pieces of music, so I thought I'd give you a preview of what I decided to showcase:
I'm no stranger to social media drama - I actually think I'm pretty good at it, but lately I've been trying to keep my nose a little cleaner, considering my job and all. Sometimes though, I can't help but to "get with the shits", as they say.
For the past couple weeks, I've been seeing a drawing of a lunch room, with different composers at each table, with the caption, "Who are you sitting with?". The London Symphony Orchestra decided to throw a hat into the ring by creating their own version, and they posted it to Twitter. When I saw that ALL of the composers in that make-believe lunchroom were white, I had to interject. I did so by retweeting it, with my own caption that got LOTS of attention:
Tens of thousands of impressions, and about 60 retweets later, the London Symphony Orchestra responded by tweeting a special dedication to Florence Price. While this doesn't erase their high levels of cultural incompetency, I did think it was a nice gesture.
At this point, I was really fired up, and when I read an ad from another orchestra that didn't include any black composers, I tweeted them, saying it was a shame that they decided to only include white men composers in the announcement. Their reaction was a little different. Instead of doing something equitable, or even reaching out to me, they reached out to folks at my job. What was their goal in doing that? To get me punished, or worse, FIRED??
Me and my boss are fine, but the fact that they would do something like that has had me bothered all week. When I told my colleague, Steve Seel about it, he said I had "stepped off the plantation", and that was their way of reeling me in. I really appreciated hearing that from Steve, because it's a story I'd heard before.
While waiting in the green room to play with the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra one year, the harpist told me a story about her husband going golfing, and meeting some Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians on the green. She said that they were awe struck by his presence, and kept asking, "What are you doing here? You must have a good job to go golfing in the middle of the day". After telling me this story, Lydia used the same phrase Steve did - they were surprised to see a black man who had "stepped off the plantation".
I'm feeling better now, but there's so much work to do in the world of classical music. It all boils down to racism, and whether I'm behind the mic, on the stage, or elsewhere, I'm never going to stop fighting for equity, equality, and cultural competency in this industry I've dedicated my life to. I can't do it alone though - CALL OUT CULTURAL RACISM IN CLASSICAL MUSIC EVERY TIME YOU SEE IT! It's the only way real change will ever come.
By the way, I fixed the lunchroom meme. Who you sittin' with?
Earlier this week I traveled to Rochester, NY, to give the opening address and to facilitate the opening panel discussion at the Gateways Music Festival! It was a great honor, and I hope you'll learn more about this important endeavor, and more importantly, I hope you'll DONATE to it!
A few people asked for a copy of what I'd written, so I thought I'd share it here:
My name is Garrett McQueen, and it is my EXTREME pleasure to be with you today, and to lead a really great panel discussion that I think you’ll enjoy hearing.
First, a little about me for folks who don’t know who I am – I spent the first decade or so of my career as a professional bassoonist. I’ve performed with a number of orchestras across the country, and I spent 5 seasons as a tenured member of the Knoxville Symphony down in East Tennessee.
In 2016, I got the opportunity to host and produce content for WUOT-FM in Knoxville, and that eventually led me to my CURRENT position as national host and producer of classical music at American Public Media in Saint Paul, MN.
I share a bit of my story with you so that we all can think a little about the idea of opportunity, and what that means for us.
Everyone here – everyone in this room, at some point, was given an opportunity – we don’t have much control over what the opportunities ARE most times, but we DO have control over what we do with those opportunities.
Each and every person playing at the Gateways Festival this week was given the opportunity to do so, and with opportunities given, there are opportunities NOT given.
Over 200 Gateways hopefuls were actually turned away this year, simply due to what the festival is capable of handling at this point – this is where YOU come in!
Whether you’re here performing with the festival, or if you’re here as a guest to observe what’s going to happen today and for the rest of this week, it is YOUR responsibility to make the most of this opportunity.
When you go grab a coffee later, or lunch, or a drink, or whatever, tell everyone why you’re here! Tell people that this thing called classical music NEVER belonged to white Europeans and their ancestors, and I’m gonna say that again – THIS THING CALLED CLASSICAL MUSIC NEVER BELONGED TO WHITE EUROPEANS AND THEIR ANCESTORS – it belongs to ALL OF US.
Tell people that this thing called classical music has enriched the lives of so many people of color, specifically BLACK people, and that you want to share that enrichment with them – enrichment through a deeper understanding of our relationship with this artform, both historically, AND contemporarily.
Tell people that the power, the equity, and the sustenance of Gateways depends wholly on them!
Ultimately, this is all bigger than classical music – we have to support, enrich, and vie for each other in EVERY way we can, and supporting and promoting Gateways is a very specific, but very important way to do that.
The late great James Baldwin once said: To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.
I’m in rage.
I’m in rage that I can’t see US ALL here. I’m in rage that there are black musicians who NEED this experience – folks who NEED this level of fellowship and family- folks whose only outlet in classical music is the result of some white - serving diversity initiative, who don’t get to experience this. You should be in rage too, and I hope that rage, and the NERVE will inspire you to do whatever you can to make sure this festival doesn’t just survive, but grows – we aren’t all free, until we are all free.
Now at this point in career I’ve done enough public radio membership drives to know that not all of you will answer my call, but I wanna offer just one more thought to you that I hope will inspire you:
There are those of you who will continue to be a part of the oppression of black musicians, and there are those of US, who will be a part of the LIBERATION of black musicians - period.
...which group are you a part of?
American Public Media does a great job of keeping up with its 500 employees by requiring annual goal assessments and self reviews. I spent enough time on my self review this year to justify sharing it with you, so here it is - tell me what you think!
This time last year I was thinking about everything I wanted to accomplish at my new job with American Public Media. I set the bar high for myself, and I’m very proud to say that I’ve achieved each of the goals I set out for myself over these past 13 months.
The first thing that I’d like to acknowledge is the maintenance of my sleep schedule. Working overnight isn’t easy, and adding an “office day” to my schedule makes it even tougher. I’m not yet able to really “live life” the way I’d like working four overnight shifts a week, but I’m very proud that the staying awake part is no longer a concern. Over the next year, I hope to feel more comfortable spending less time trying to sleep while away from work, and more time participating in the culture and activities of the cities I live in (local concerts/events/etc.).
As National Host/Producer of “Music Through the Night”, my first big goal was to continue to develop my own unique voice as a radio host. This was a process that ended up being more involved than I anticipated, and while I consider this a career-long project, I’ve definitely connected with listeners with my hosting style. Through lots of feedback, audience members have categorized me as a host that exudes passion and expertise in a light-hearted, young, and relatable way. I hope to continue, and even to grow in this regard, by offering listeners my own, very unique perspective on the music and the stories I present each night.
My second big goal was to gain the courage to go off-script. While I do still use a script, it’s become a tool, and not a crutch. What I write and prepare for each air shift is a guide for me – I use each night’s “script” as the basis for what I’m going to say, instead of what I plan to read. District breaks have become completely off-script for me at this point, and (due to an unforeseen technical difficulty) I managed to execute an entire shift off-script this year! Looking ahead, I do plan to continue script-writing, but I plan to write scripts that mirror my normal speech, as opposed to the “professional radio voice” I tend to fall back into when I’m not paying attention.
Impacting the programming on C24 was something I wanted to do this year, and something I did in bigger ways than I’d planned. After learning about some of the more programmed pieces of music/composers, I compiled song lists that highlight the aural diversity of classical music. Showcasing music by women and people of color fueled this part of my annual goals, and through a Black History Month feature many listeners heard music they’d never heard before! I was also very proud to spearhead what I understand was APM’s very first Juneteenth celebration – that, in particular, is what I think I’m most proud of accomplishing this year. It should also be noted that a recording featuring myself was added to the library, in addition to a number of web features to the online library, including a profile on the Sphinx Virtuosi Ensemble, a Black History Month special, and a rare feature of the Illharmonic Orchestra.
In addition to meeting, and even exceeding my goals for this year, I achieved things I hadn’t planned on. In the opening weeks of my being a member of the team, I recorded the flamenco-inspired episode of Class Notes, which was used in countless meetings, focus groups, and pitches over the course of the year. My participation in this project led me to Capitol Hill, where I testified before a committee in an effort to continue the state’s funding of classicalMPR. Reaching out to both seasoned listeners, and potential new listeners was also a huge part of my year, through my facilitation of pre-concert talks for both the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (two each), and my guest appearance on the New York-based podcast, “Need to Know”. The more I become familiar with the local culture of the Twin Cities and the national listening audience, the more comfortable I feel engaging the listeners, and it’s work I plan to continue over this next year.
Joining the team hasn’t been without its challenges. In my opening weeks on the job I received an incredibly rude e-mail from Steven John concerning a miscommunication about weather recording, followed by questions from Jim Noone concerning my Black Lives Matter paraphernalia. In response to these events, and others in my personal life, I decided that people outside of the “norm” who work in classical music deserve a spotlight, and a means of validation. What came of this was the idea of a podcast, originally titled “Crossover”, and eventually named “Trilloquy”. With the help of Scott Blankenship and other colleagues, I’ve brought to life some of the “true and real stories from the fringes of classical music” in a way that hasn’t been done before! I’m incredibly proud of what Trilloquy has become, and that, coupled with my personal dedication to being my most true and authentic self, has helped MPR/APM become a more equitable and affirming organization. Over the next year, I hope to see Trilloquy’s website develop, along with more integrated in-house promotion (Trilloquy logo on main lobby panels, etc.).
While I’ve set a number of new goals for the following year, the biggest of them is to continue to impact the culture of APM. Every time I’ve met a black person outside of APM, they’re shocked and surprised that I work here. The organization, in my Twin Cities experience so far, is still seen as one that doesn’t directly address local people of color. In my opinion, this culture is perpetuated through a very rigid definition of “classical music”, and an unequitable focus on composers and aesthetics mirroring the traditions of western Europe. It’s not lost on me that we regularly showcase composers who had relationships with the Nazis, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and other dark eras of world history. I want to be a part of dismantling these aspects of classical music by forsaking the catalogues of Frederick Delius, George Frederic Handel, Richard Strauss, and others, and replacing them with composers who speak to more contemporary sonic aesthetics and social/cultural sensibilities. With a weekly podcast, and 24 hours’ worth of weekly on-air shifts, my schedule is tight, but I consider this work, specifically, part of my life’s purpose, and I’ll do everything I can to move both myself and the organization into more culturally competent, socially (and artistically) equitable spaces.
It’s an honor to work here, and I look forward to everything to come in the future.
I spent last week away from the air waves and on the stage. The annual Artosphere Festival in Fayetteville, AR was lots of fun, as it's been for me the past 5 years, but this year it felt a little different, still.
Since moving to Minnesota I've been fully dedicated to racial/gender equity in classical music. In my opinion, there's no reason to not have something by a woman or POC on any program, and unfortunately the festival stuck to the tradition of programs filled with music by dead (or really old) white men. During the rehearsal process for the first concert, I kept thinking to myself, "Damn, I'm glad I left this performance world officially". The music is great, don't get me wrong, but again, why NOT program something that showcases classical music's diversity? This, coupled with being the only black person in the orchestra for concert 1 left me with the feeling that I'm in the wrong space - I felt like I wasn't speaking to my experiences, or to anyone with a similar experience.
During the applause following the first concert, the maestro asked the winds to stand, and I could clearly see a black guy near the front row doing everything he could to grab my attention. When I finally looked down, he was raising his fist in full black power, and I returned the gesture. The following morning, I was walking down the street and was stopped by a black woman who was also at the concert, and she thanked me for my presence there. I can't even tell you how excited I was by those two exchanges. It felt like my being there actually mattered. It felt like I was doing a part of the work I feel is so important, even though I was doing it by way of old, dead, white composers.
Me and my friend Aaron ended up meeting the black guy I exchanged a black power first with at a local food truck a few days later. His name is Dennis, and he talked about how he enjoys seeing classical music to diversify his experiences. Seeing me on stage added to his experience, and him seeing me validated the work I continue to do. There are days when classical music definitely feels like "white people music" to me, but even if I'm able to impact the life of just one POC in live performances I feel like I've done my job. I'm still glad that I left the stage officially, though - there are countless more POCs for me to reach over the airwaves. When orchestras start programming more equitably the performance bug may bite again, but for now I'm happy with where I am.
Thoughts of black power, equity, and liberation actually inspired my newest tattoo - this makes 11 tattoos for me so far! What do you think?
I remember it like it was yesterday - I was 19 years old, waiting tables at an Irish pub in Midtown Memphis when the traffic stopped all of a sudden. The patio I was working slowly got gayer and gayer, and a few minutes later a Pride parade began! I'd never seen or been to one, but it left me so excited that I knew I had to be off work for the next one. Fast forward a year, and I was there, in short shorts and angel wings - it was a great time! I'd been out since middle school, but being out and about while being "out" was really affirming. When I think back to those days now long gone, I think about how misguided I was in many ways.
Hear me out - I think Pride festivities are really important. There are tons of teens and young adults in rural areas that need to see and experience other people on the LGBT+ spectrum, but the festivals just feel different to me now. Looking back to my late teens/early twenties, it seems like there was only one acceptable way to be gay - the way we were taught by Will and Grace, Queer Eye, etc. Granted, I'm probably MORE forward about my sexuality now than I was back then, but in retrospect, my WHOLE identity wasn't affirmed at those festivities.
Two or three years after going to my first Pride in Memphis, I discovered that the city had a (separate but equal) Black Pride festival! This is where I found myself. I saw people, engaged conversations, and heard music that addressed my experiences as a black queer man way more directly than "regular" Pride did, as me and my friends called it. One summer, there was a push to combine the two Prides, and it didn't go so well. As far as I know, Pride and Black Pride are still two separate festivals in Memphis.
It's really interesting for me to go into Target or ride the bus and see the Pride colors everywhere. I'm just old enough to remember when Pride wasn't so mainstream, so public affirmation (that's really capitalism targeted at the gays) is new for me. When I think about the commercialization of Pride, the lack of historical perspective much of Pride perpetuates, and the white-centricity of it all, it makes me just want to stay home. We so quickly forget the meaning behind the Pride flag. It's colored as a rainbow to represent people from the entire spectrum of humanity coming together to celebrate what we all have in common - LOVE. Is the spectrum of humanity's love showcased in Pride festivals these days, or is it just a Ke$ha concert sans Ke$ha?
I'm going to Twin Cities Pride this weekend (if it doesn't rain), but reluctantly so. My boyfriend hasn't been out as bi for very long, so it still feels pretty fresh for him, and I think that's fair. For me, it just feels like something I barely recognize anymore. I guess I'm old.
Tamika Mallory said it best: if the most marginalized of a community isn't the focus, the movement is false. She was referring to the Womens' March when she said that, but I think it applies very well to Pride as well. A black trans woman is why the movement began - whitewashing it with unicorn horns and rainbow-colored T-shirts seems to be the contemporary part of the movement, and a part of the movement I may have to dismiss myself from in the future.
This is the first year I've created content, specifically, for Juneteenth! I'm so excited that I thought I'd offer a week-in-advance preview. This post, along with a Juneteenth episode of TRILLOQUY, and a 24 hour Juneteenth celebration (airing on your public radio station, or streaming here), will all happen next week, on June 19th.
For many Americans, July 4th of 1776 was the ultimate day of freedom, but unfortunately, it wasn’t actually a day of liberty and justice for all. Across the southern part of the United States, Afro-Americans were still enslaved, and it wouldn’t be until June 19th of 1865 when they all would be freed.
It was on that day when a Union Army General rode down to Galveston, TX with news that the Civil War was over. That news meant all slaves must be freed at once – it’s a day still celebrated among Afro-Americans has a holiday called Juneteenth.
This Juneteenth, Your Classical is celebrating by featuring black classical music each hour! Here's some info on six of the twenty-four pieces that will be featured in this year’s Juneteenth Celebration:
On this, the 154th anniversary of Juneteenth, we hope you’ll use music to enrich your knowledge of black history, broaden your perspective of black present, and draw positive hopes for black future. Happy Juneteenth!
Dell and I celebrated our first official year here in Saint Paul this week! As I think about what this past year has looked like, I'm impressed. Considering that I'm a southern boy, you have to admit that it's at least a little impressive that I survived a really brutal winter (with only one tow). My radio show is doing well, and a project that I didn't think I'd be able to get done until later this year came into full fruition - the TRILLOQUY podcast is off to a great start! Be sure to go check out today's episode, featuring Brandon Coffer.
With all the good, comes a hint of sadness. Lots of random thoughts go through my mind all the time, and for some reason the sentence, "I want to go home" popped up earlier this week. I don't even know if I know where home is anymore. I'm from Memphis, but I haven't been there in so long I wouldn't even recognize my neighborhood, much less other parts of the city! The most time I've spent in a city that isn't Memphis was my five-year run in Knoxville - no shade, but I'll be damned if I ever call that place home.
Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, and the other cities I've lived in (or frequented) aren't home, so I guess I AM home. What does that mean? I moved around so much, it's hard for me to imagine that this is the FINAL leg of the journey, but who knows?
That's all I have this week. I have more thinking to do. All in all, I'm really happy here in Saint Paul, but I definitely need to get back to Memphis sooner than later. I miss you, 901.
For the past month or so I've been shooting for June 1st. That's the day when all of my outside gigs are done (for at least a couple days) and I get to relax for a bit. The biggest outside activities that have had me tied up lately are the pre-concert interviews I do for the SPCO and Minnesota Orchestra. I'll be sure to report back about the ones I have this week, on the topic of Gershwin as a culture vulture. It's the interviews I gave LAST week that I'm here to talk about today.
They went perfectly fine, by the way. Better than fine, even, because my subject, Joshua Weilerstein, was such a good sport. It's easy for those talks to turn into "So why did you became a musician" or "What do you like to do for fun", but I'm always interested in giving the audience a little meat. We talked about the concert as it applies to many of today's issues, including religion separating people, and much more. Shout out to Josh for a really great pair of talks.
The second of the two interviews took place on a Saturday evening - the night I have off from my radio gig at APM. With that in mind, I wanted to go out and have some fun afterward, and wanted to dress appropriately. It took me about 30 minutes to decide what I wanted to wear, because I was dealing with something I've finally decided to say goodbye to forever - RESPECTABILITY POLITICS.
Here's how Wikipedia defines it:
Respectability politics or the politics of respectability refers to attempts by marginalized groups to police their own members and show their social values as being continuous and compatible with dominant values rather than challenging the mainstream for what they see as its failure to accept difference.
It might seem pretty insignificant if you've never been black in white spaces, but it is! I wanted to dress the way I wanted to dress, and because of societal norms, I had to think about how I'd look on an orchestral stage as the only black person not just in the room, but in the entire BUILDING. In the heat of my distress, I made a decision - I will not allow respectability politics to have a place in my life anymore. Not ever again. Never.
So I went in my closet, grabbed my Forces, and went to do my job. No one died, no one got hurt, and everything was just fine. If you've made it this far, I beg you - help me dismantle and destroy respectability politics by saying goodbye to them with me!
One of the many running jokes I maintained with my listeners at WUOT-FM in Knoxville was my disdain for Brahms. When I want to listen to classical music, I don't want to hear orchestra soup, and that's how I've always categorized his symphonies. Since leaving Knoxville I've been able to find an appreciation for Brahms' music (still not his symphonies, though), and in a public announcement I declared George Gershwin my next least favorite composer.
Don't get me wrong - his music is really fun, but where does it come from? He didn't come from the communities that codified and maintained the sound of jazz, so why is his music filled with it? Gershwin certainly didn't come from South Carolina, but that didn't keep him from writing the "jive-talkin'" folk opera you know as Porgy and Bess, now did it? Again, my disfavor for Gershwin isn't tied to his music, but rather the aesthetics he became famous for that are unquestionably connected to black music. Non-black people are more than welcome to utilize what black people have created (in a respectful manner), but I can't help but to think about Gershwin as someone who made his way on the backs of people who couldn't, considering the violent racial politics that plagued the nation in the early parts of the 20th century.
I say all of that to set the stage for an opportunity I was offered back in October. I have a contact at the Minnesota Orchestra who thought it would be good for me to put together a panel about Gershwin and the idea of cultural appropriation for their upcoming performance of Gershwin's Piano Concerto. There's nothing I love more than making waves in a public space, so obviously I accepted. After assembling the panel (of black music professionals here in the Twin Cities) I got a phone call from my contact, who said the Minnesota Orchestra administration was concerned about the panel. After a pretty heated conversation (and a few e-mails) I was assured that I would be given the freedom to explore conversations the way I wanted - AUTHENTICALLY.
Let me tell you - I was completely prepared to cancel this panel and invite my guests to have the discussion on Trilloquy instead. I guess I can understand why people at an organization as large as the Minnesota Orchestra would be concerned - there are lots of non-black people that would feel uncomfortable with this conversation, and may even pull their money! To hell with the fact that my years of experience on AND off the stage still leave me feeling uncomfortable in those spaces - you have to maintain a certain climate to maintain your dollars...
I'm probably gonna roast Gershwin next week at the panel, but I won't make any promises. My goal is only to inform, but this situation has left a sour taste in my mouth. Are orchestras actually interested in conversations like these, or do they just want credit for them after censoring the perspective? Will orchestras be among the final institutions interested in ACTUAL cultural competency? If you'll be in the Twin Cities next Thursday and Friday (May 30th and 31st), join me, Janis Lane-Ewart, and Phillip Schoultz for an exploration of George Gershwin's proximity to cultural appropriation at Orchestra Hall, beginning at 7 PM both nights.
And PS - TRILLOQUY DROPS TODAY! The trailer is live, and the first two episodes should be available by the end of the day. You can listen through iTunes, Spotify, and Your Classical.